Whenever the Huskies closed in on Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback darted through a crack in the defensive front and sprinted to daylight.
And when Washington dropped back in coverage to defend the pass, Mariota ran an inside zone-read play to perfection for large chunks of running yards.
“I caught myself also being a little too pumped up. You got to play with a quiet mind. You’re in those situations where you think you got him and he slips away.”
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The 16th-ranked Huskies (4-2) knew they faced a dangerous opponent in No. 2 Oregon (6-0) and Mariota, the 6-4 and 215-pound Heisman Trophy front-runner.
However, they couldn’t have imagined a near flawless performance from the redshirt sophomore who completed 24 of 31 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried 13 times for 88 yards and a score.
“I cannot think of a more difficult guy I’ve seen at that position,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “He’s a special guy.”
Before Saturday, Washington believed its defense was special, too.
In the previous five games, the Huskies had 15 sacks and ranked 11th in the nation allowing an average of 14.8 points. They also surrendered just 146 passing yards per game.
But the Huskies had no defense for Mariota.
Said Wilcox: “The guy is the fastest guy on the football field. Even when you have a spy, he can outrun a spy. When you pressure him, he did a really nice job of completing the ball and putting it in the right spot.
“There was just very little margin for error.”
Perhaps one sequence symbolized Washington’s defensive frustrations more than any other. The Huskies trailed 31-24 on the final play in the third quarter and Washington had finally seized momentum in a game in which it never had the lead.
“I just told our guys relax, we’ll be fine,” Mariota said.
On first-and-15 from the Oregon 29, Mariota scrambled away from pressure, darting right and then turning left before running for a 35-yard carry to the UW 36.
He capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run 65 seconds later, and the Huskies never threatened again.
Mariota’s ability to decipher Washington’s defensive schemes allowed the Ducks to roll up 631 yards.
“The fun thing about playing in our offense is the chess match,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “People are going to tweak their plan a little bit. More blitz than you expect or less blitz than you expect.
“Our guys up front do a great job of adjusting. … And Marcus has a lot do do that that. He played really smart and was very productive.”